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Monday, July 03, 2017

61st PAL Fireworks Draws Record Crowd

By James Lomuscio

Sporting a funky hat and oversized red, white and blue glasses trimmed with blinking lights, Gaelle Dudley of Fairfield said tonight she never saw Compo Beach so crowded for the annual Police Athletic League (PAL) fireworks.

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Gaelle Dudley of Fairfield: “It’s a perfect storm—long weekend and perfect weather.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo

“We’re calling it a perfect storm; it’s a long weekend and perfect weather,” said the former Westport resident.

High tide, too, made every square foot of sand from East Beach to South Beach spoken for with blankets, beach chairs, tents, canopies, coolers and beach games.

“It’s a huge party,” Dudley said.

How Huge? Officer Ned Batlin, PAL president, estimated around 7 p.m. that the 61st annual PAL event had drawn 12,000, “give or take 2,000.” And the number of attendees appeared to grow as darkness descended over what had earlier been a clear, azure sky replete with a summer wind.

The first thundering sounds of a nearly 20-minute pyrotechnic show began at 9:16 p.m. Green, red, magenta, white, pink and blue explosions, each one carefully orchestrated by Fireworks by Grucci and launched from a barge off East Beach did not disappoint.

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Melissa and Doug Bernstein of Westport with son Nate, 9, were in the fireworks crowd. Their company, Melissa & Doug, LLC., educational toy manufacturer, sponsored the fireworks event. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

From Hillspoint Road to Soundview Drive where more than a half-dozen waterfront mansions and homes hosted parties, all eyes seemed fixed on a booming then crackling, colorful night sky.

The fireworks display that cost $45,000 was donated by Westporters Melissa and Doug Bernstein, principals of Wilton-based Melissa & Doug, LLC, an educational toy company.

“It’s the greatest night in Wetsport, the biggest party of the year in town and 100 percent of the money goes back to kids,” said Batlin about the proceeds from 2,000 ticket sales at $35 each.

“This is the best fireworks show in the State of Connecticut.”

Bill Chappa, a Westport PAL volunteer for 50 years and a member of its board of directors, said that over the years the town’s Independence Day fireworks have “gotten to be more of a party than a show.”

He recalled years back when the event included a number of acts, even skydivers.

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One of many parties in homes along Soundview Drive tonight. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo

In later years it transformed into more of a pre-fireworks social gathering, he said, with Soundview Drive closed to traffic and house parties.

“It works,” he said. “The bottom line to this is helping the kids.”

Along Soundview Drive, balmy breezes, the scents of grills and citronella and the glow of illuminated toys hawked by vendors made the evening feel like street festival.

“It’s like Coney Island,” quipped Ted Weisman of Weston. “I’ve been coming here for the past 23 years, and this is the most crowded I’ve ever seen it.”

Crowded it was, but not without a sense of community.

“It’s nights like this that make Westport so special,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe as he strolled along Soundview, stopping to chat with friends on the front porch of house party.

For Kim Cooper, who grew up in town and now divides her time between Westport and California, coming back for the annual fireworks is a must.

“I love coming here,” she said “This is home.”

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Posted 07/03/17 at 11:05 PM  Permalink



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